Chicago, IL – A mass exodus of Chicago police officers who have filed for retirement in recent months will leave the city short of cops and hurt the pension system.
Fifty-nine Chicago police officers retired in August and another 51 officers have filed to retire in September, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“That’s unheard of,” Michael Lappe, vice president of the board of trustees for the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, said. “We’re seeing double the average number of retirees each month. The average is about 24 a month.”
Lappe blamed a changed in officers’ health insurance benefits but the president of the Chicago police union blamed the wave of retirements on a lack of support from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Police pension records showed there were 335 retirements between January and July so far this year, the officers leaving in August and September bring that total to 445.
There were 475 retirements total in 2019 and 339 retirements total in 2018, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President John Catanzara said the exodus of officers would leave the Windy City short of police.
“I have no doubt that it’s going to continue, and I can clearly see a smaller spike within the upper ranks [of] lieutenants and above,” Catanzara told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Who wants to stay in this environment? If you have the ability to leave, there is no incentive to stay anymore.”
“The mayor doesn’t back us,” he added. “If you have the financial ability to do so, I don’t blame a single soul for leaving.”
The union boss and the mayor have been at odds for months over controversial police reform proposals in the wake of the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Catanzara and Lightfoot have also battled over the police contract which has been expired since 2017.
Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale said he realized how many officers were leaving when he visited police headquarters for a meeting a week ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Beale was previously the chairman of the Chicago City Council’s police committee, and as such has many acquaintances on the force.
“From the time I walked in to the police headquarters to the time I left, which was about 35 minutes, there were nine or 10 officers who approached me and said they were leaving,” he said. “Every person who walked past me said, ‘Hey, Beale, I’m out of here.’”
The numbers might be surprising to some given that the Chicago Police Department reported that staffing had hit a 10-year high of 13,350 officers in 2019, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
But by March, there were only 13,100 officers left on the police force.
“We’re way short of officers now, and I’m afraid, as people go to retire, we’re going to be even further short of officers on the street,” Beale worried. “We’re working officers double-time, triple-time. It’s only a matter of time before officers are totally burned out.”
Lappe expressed concern that the pension system’s financial health would suffer under the weight of a prolonged wave of unanticipated retirements, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
He said that right now, there are 850 more retirees drawing a pension than actual active-duty officers patrolling Chicago’s streets.
Lappe said that 20 years ago those numbers were greatly reversed, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Pension records showed that in 2000, about 3,000 more active-duty cops were on the payroll than retirees collecting pensions, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.